Happy new year? Understanding depression and what you can do about it

woman2The promise of a new year brings optimism and hope to many, but throws others into abject misery. Whether or not you’re aware, someone you know is suffering from depression. Depression is a common but serious illness. People with depression (also known as clinical depression, major depression or major depressive disorder) find that their state interferes with daily life. Depressed people feel sad, hopeless, worried, helpless, guilty, irritable, pessimistic, hurt, or restless. They may lose interest in activities that were once pleasurable, experience changes in appetite, have problems concentrating, remembering details or making decisions. Changes in energy levels, insomnia or excessive sleeping, aches, pains and/ or digestive problems may also be present. Depressed people may contemplate, attempt or commit suicide.

Sometimes depression stems from a major life event such as childbirth, a catastrophic injury or loss of a loved one. For others, it may be due to pharmaceutical medication or an underlying health condition including thyroid/ adrenal/ hormonal imbalances, cancer, autoimmune disease or other debilitating illnesses. Some people feel depressed continuously while others find that their depressive episodes follow a seasonal pattern (seasonal affective disorder).


liverMost people with clinical depression need treatment to get better. Treatment varies depending on the type and severity of depression. Some people find psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioural therapy) effective enough to help them change their thoughts and behaviour, while others need natural or pharmaceutical antidepressants to help them get back on track. Along with therapy and/ or oral antidepressants, many people find that dietary modifications, stress management techniques, acupuncture, physical activity and other lifestyle changes can dramatically improve their condition.

If you know a family member or friend who exhibits depressive symptoms, encourage them to seek help, and be supportive in their healing journey.

Below, I’ve outlined a few cases to shed light on natural approaches used to treat depression.

Case #1. A lawyer complains of hating her job, trouble sleeping, low energy and needing alcohol to help her “relax” every evening (she also recently finds out she has fatty liver, most likely due to her drinking habits). Having lost interest in things she used to enjoy, she feels miserable and has no motivation to do anything. After listening to her work stresses, diet and lifestyle, I prescribe her SAMe (click here to read more about this natural antidepressant), an omega-3 supplement and some dietary modifications to nourish her adrenal glands and help improve sleep. I encourage her to do some form of physical activity regularly, and on days when she’s “too busy” to exercise, to do stretches and deep breathing exercises after work. Within 3 months, her mood is lifted and her sleep is improved. There is no longer a need for alcohol (she has stopped drinking alcohol, period) and she happily tells me she is moving on to another more interesting, less stressful job.

Case #2. A visibly upset teenager studying in Europe comes in, telling me of her anxiety, relationship troubles and on-and-off eating disorder- on top of stress from her studies. After listening to her full story, I prescribe her natural adaptogens to increase her ability to deal with stress as well as herbal anxiolytics to reduce anxiety. I advise her to see a counselor for the eating disorder, and she does. She continues to see me every two weeks to follow up on progress and talk about ways to manage stress. Before the summer is over, her mind is clearer, she is less anxious and she feels more in control of her emotions. She is physically and mentally ready to face a new year of school. She is advised to continue treatment throughout her school year in Europe.

Case #3. A homemaker tells me she has thoughts of worthlessness, helplessness and suicide, though she lacks nothing financially and appears happy to the world. Her husband is not home often and she feels she has nothing to live for. She also suffers from insomnia and irritability. I prescribe her a natural antidepressant as well as certain adaptogens. I give her dietary recommendations to help lift her energy and mood. Throughout our sessions, she pours out her frustrations and fears to me. When treatment takes effect and she is more stable, she is encouraged to establish her own goals, to find a purpose for her existence. Today, she enjoys her part-time work in making a difference in other people’s lives.

If you or someone you know is depressed- you’re not alone. Natural or conventional treatment is available and can help you get back on track. Take courage and talk to your doctor to get the help you need!

SOURCE: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml

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